"Wanted: A realistic relationship with the United States" by Alexander Moens, The Vancouver Sun, Monday, June 13, 2005
U.S. President George W. Bush appoints a South Carolina politician with no
knowledge of our country as ambassador to Canada.
The Canadian ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna, resorts to
op-ed columns to get Washington's attention to stop North Dakota from
letting water from Devil's Lake flow into the Red River and into Manitoba.
At a meeting before Bush's visit to Canada last winter, Canadian officials
assured Condoleezza Rice that Prime Minister Paul Martin would come through
on missile defence. Like McKenna, she was surprised to find the
Transport Minister Jean Lapierre promises "to fight back" on the American
demand that all passenger lists undergo a pre-check before Canadian
cross into U.S. airspace. The "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North
America" agreed to in Waco, Texas, a few months ago was a last-minute,
"hurry-up" piece of paper with no substance behind it.
The mad cow and softwood lumber issues are just meandering their way
the American political system and lobbies down south feel little
counter-pressure from the White House.
Discussion about cultural and political differences boomerang and many
Americans wonder if Canadians are still their friends. The Canada-U.S.
border increasingly looks like Checkpoint Charlie.
The point is that the current model of American-Canadian relations is not
working. It is worse than merely unpleasant interaction, for we risk
the next train we need to catch to improve our economic and security
Canada needs to squeeze into a closer economic partnership with the United
States lest competition from Asia or the Americas overtake Canada's
advantage. Similar logic applies to security and foreign policy.
The relationship has suffered structural damage in the past decade,
especially in the past five years. Many in Canada like to blame Bush, but
the real problem is deeper and will last beyond Bush if we do not mend our
The root cause is a faulty bilateral relations model employed by Canadian
governments with backing from most leaders in academia and the media. Their
approach is basically this: Be as separate and divergent as you can, but
cooperate where you must. This model implies hammering out individual deals
on separate issues, while ignoring or wishing away political linkage,
alliance, friendship, loyalty and trust.
This design has failed miserably. Canada prides itself on being a
multilateralist, but that strategy simply does not work in the Canada-U.S.
relationship. Declaring that it should does not help. The American
structure is allergic to supranationalism. It hardly allows formal deals
that transfer American sovereignty to bodies such as the United Nations.
The softwood dispute is a glaring example. Canada needs more than treaties
and dispute settlement mechanisms. We need a new model that turns the
current design on its head. The onus is on Canada to find a better way to
deal with the U.S. We need an approach that emphasizes convergence in the
public realm alongside an inside political game, something that maximizes
Canadian interests that multilateralism and formal state-to-state relations
alone cannot accomplish.
This model begins with a new political-strategic friendship. The strategy
implies that only by getting closer to the Americans can Canada
prosperity and security interests.
The U.S. is a highly fragmented political interlocutor. Canadians
need to build the right coalitions inside the complex American political
process. The U.S. machinery is so highly partitioned and diverse that
Canadian interests are easily compromised by just one clever American
using the checks and balances in his favour. Canada needs to mix inside the
coalitions of give and take, of half-a-loaf is better than none, of
horse-trading and log-rolling.
All of this starts with a seamless and smooth liaison between the Prime
Minister's Office and the White House. From there, it's on to the Congress
and the bureaucracy.
Alexander Moens is a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, professor of
political science at Simon Fraser University and the author of The Foreign
Policy of George W. Bush (2004).